Directly brushing charcoal onto your teeth can be highly abrasive so it is not good for your teeth and that also includes activated charcoal. However, activated charcoal in a pre-made toothpaste can potentially be better for your teeth than using plain charcoal.
Table of Contents:
Is charcoal bad for your teeth?
Brushing with organic charcoal is not good for your teeth because it is a natural abrasive and it can potentially cause severe enamel abrasion. That is without any additional additives such as synthetic abrasives because the material is inherently abrasive as it is.
The official stance of the American Dental Association (ADA) is not supportive of its use either. According to the ADA there is insufficient research in regards to the safety and efficacy of charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices.
We would have to agree with the ADA in that there is "insufficient research" for using charcoal because it has been difficult to find information about it. There have been alleged claims that the ancient Romans used it but could not find any scientific studies on it.
We only found one study with charcoal brushing by The Journal of Nihon University School of Dentistry.
Two villages in Malaysia brushed their teeth with table salt and charcoal.
Conclusion: these ingredients were highly abrasive since a lot of villagers had abrasions on the labial surfaces of their teeth!
Just to reiterate, this is with using pure charcoal directly on your teeth. So far, the practice of doing so doesn't seem particularly good for your teeth since the safety is dubious. However, activated charcoal toothpastes seem to be safer than pure charcoal.
Is activated charcoal good for your teeth?
Brushing with activated charcoal is better for your teeth than pure charcoal because toothpastes with it seem to be within acceptable abrasive limits.
Toothpaste abrasiveness are quantified based on their RDA values (Relative Dentin Abrasivity).
The higher the RDA the more abrasive it is and higher risk for enamel damage.
The lower the RDA the less abrasive it is and lower risk to harm your enamel.
RDA values for two well-known activated charcoal toothpastes:
Those RDA values alone may not be that helpful for you so here is a chart of a LOT of toothpastes and their respective RDA values.
Overall it appears that activated charcoal toothpastes (not pure charcoal) is in the medium abrasive level according to the RDA chart. They are certainly not the lowest but at the same time they aren't in the harmful level either.
Based on the RDA values in comparison to other toothpastes, they should be safe to use. However we remain cautious since the ADA is recommending caution while using it.
Do research studies say that activated charcoal is bad for your teeth?
Unfortunately the vast majority of studies did find activated charcoal toothpaste to be highly abrasive. There were a few which concluded that it did not but the majority did.
According to a systematic review in the Annals of Anatomy, activated charcoal toothpastes were considered less safe due to its high abrasive potential.
Out of the 8 studies which investigated abrasion, 7 of them found it to be abrasive.
Only 1 out of the 8 studies found no difference in abrasion quality.
Once again we'll have to stick with the ADA's stance that there isn't enough quality studies to really determine the safety of using charcoal based toothpastes. Despite a lot of the studies finding it to be somewhat abrasive, the RDA values for two of the toothpastes were still within acceptable limits.
Is it effective as a whitening toothpaste?
According to the study above, activated charcoal toothpaste is an effective whitening toothpaste but ineffective as a bleaching toothpaste. The difference is that it can whiten by mechanically removing extrinsic stains via abrasion. It is a natural abrasive so it undoubtedly can mechanically abrade the tooth stains.
What it cannot do is chemically oxidize intrinsic stains because it does not contain any chemical agents since it is all natural. The only tooth bleaching agent that can chemically oxidize intrinsic stains is hydrogen peroxide. Since it does not contain any of it, it is ineffective at removing intrinsic stains thus it is not an effective bleaching toothpaste.
As an example, baking soda is a whitening toothpaste that works similarly to charcoal ones in that they both only whiten by abrading extrinsic stains. However if you add peroxide to the baking soda, it gains the ability to remove intrinsic stains. That means you need a chemical agent to get rid of the deeply embedded intrinsic stains.
Therefore the same could be said for activated charcoal toothpaste. It can only remove extrinsic stains unless there is peroxide added to it. That is the reason why this particular study found that it had NO bleaching effect. If you can find a product which contains both then you've found an effective whitening and bleaching toothpaste!
Now just to drive the point home, a study by BMC Oral Health compared charcoal against other whitening toothpastes. Apparently none of the toothpastes had any perceivable color change except the Colgate Optic White, which was the only one to contain peroxide in it.
In other words, you need hydrogen peroxide in order for it to be an effective bleaching toothpaste. That is why the best whitening toothpastes all have peroxide in the formulation.
Do dentists recommend charcoal based toothpastes?
According to the American Dental Association, dental clinicians should advise their patients to be cautious of using charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices. Since the vast majority of dentists are a part of the ADA, we would have to say that most are a little hesitant in recommending it over something proven like a fluoridated toothpaste.
In fact, the main concern for most dental practitioners is cavity prevention. There are only two types of toothpastes which can accomplish this, fluoride and hydroxyapatite.
Therefore if your charcoal toothpaste doesn't contain any fluoride, you're missing out on a big benefit! With that being said, there are some charcoal toothpastes which do contain fluoride in them. Most notably it is the one by Colgate and Crest which do. You should read the label carefully because some of the brands that market theirs as more "natural" will usually be fluoride-free.
Unfortunately due to unproven claims of efficacy and safety, we are hesitant to tell you to use it as an everyday product. There is also the fact that the ADA says dental practitioners should be cautious when advising patients about it.
Overall, what you should be cautious of is that it can potentially be highly abrasive. You may want to reach out to the manufacturer of the product that you're using to find out how abrasive it is. If it is within acceptable limits, it may be okay to use. Nonetheless we still wouldn't recommend using it on a daily basis until the ADA has changed their opinion in regards to it.
Perhaps you can alternate it with a different toothpaste so that you're not subjecting your teeth to excessive abrasion.
Pure charcoal is not good for your teeth but activated charcoal in toothpaste seems to be safer and less harmful than it. At the very least it is not as bad since the toothpaste versions seem to be less abrasive than organic charcoal. That is according to two brands that we found which listed their RDA values.
Whether or not it is okay to use, is actually unclear. The ADA says to use with caution due to insufficient studies on its safety and efficacy. Most of the alleged claims are from the dentifrice being too abrasive which may be true. However the two charcoal toothpastes we found that had abrasivity values seems to be within acceptable limits.
Regardless of what you decide, our recommendation is still to find a toothpaste with fluoride. This is because you want to brush with something that can prevent and reverse cavities! After all, preventative dentistry is the key to maintaining good oral health.